Part 3: The Smart Way To Use Valet Parking Services

More thoughts about defending your car...

When you valet park your car, you expect that qualified professionals are the ones handling it.

Well, the reality is the industry is not set-up this way. Maybe some valets can make a family-supporting livable wage at certain properties, like in Las Vegas.

But for most valet workers, they struggle to make it.

The sentiments of Mr. Troup are common among valet workers.

Because some shifts go well, where a decent buck can be made.

But other shifts are only so-so. And the rest of the shifts are terrible. It impacts morale.

After a period of time, the financial limits of the job become clear. Workers become disillusioned and leave.

And then more rookies get hired.

There is a constant churn of workers.

This is not conducive to a smooth-running valet operation.

When I was a valet, out of a staff of 15 to 20 valets, only 2 remained after 2 years. Everybody else was long gone.

My advice to you is to set-up your valet parking transaction so that it is more likely a worker with significant experience will park it, and not a rookie. (I'll show you precisely how in Part Four.)

Now that you understand these facts:

  1. Employee turnover is high in this business;
  2. Rookies are more common than experienced valet workers;

...let's prepare for the worst! 

Assume that whoever first approaches your car will be brand new. Help them out. Do these things:

  • Roll-up all windows except the driver's window, weather permitting.
  • Close your sunroof. You don't want the valet pushing every button while trying to get that thing closed.
  • Turn off the fan to your air conditioner/heater.
  • Turn off the radio.
  • If your headlights are NOT set to the auto setting, change it to auto.
  • If you are on a flat surface and driving an automatic, don't engage the parking brake — if it can be avoided. 
  • Make sure all doors are locked except the driver's door.

The reason for all this? To minimize the potential for problems.

There were many times I ran to the garage to bring out a car and found that a window was mistakenly left down by the previous valet. By raising all of your windows, except the driver's window, you reduce the chance of problems, like a smelly street bum getting inside your car, taking a nap, making a mess with his bag of potato chips, taking things, etc. 

And I recommend leaving the driver's window down so that there is a lesser chance of your keys being locked inside of your car after you exit it.

Some car doors actually lock automatically after a certain period of time, and if your keys are inside, well, it's not a good thing.

When valets are in a big rush, it is not unusual for them to fail to verify that all doors are locked shut after they park it. By locking all of those extra doors yourself, upon arrival, this helps to lessen the chance of problems.

You turn off the fan and radio to lessen noise. You want them to be able to hear as they are driving, like the sounds of metal crunching, people screaming, or the sounds of an approaching car. Lessening distractions makes them safer drivers.

A lot of valets will assume that if your headlights are on, then the setting is on the "auto" position. But if it isn't on auto, then your battery might get drained after they park your car.

 

Finally, if there is no need to engage the parking brake, then don't engage it. The valets aren't expecting an engaged parking brake, (unless your car is a manual or has an unusual transmission setup). They are going to drive it with that parking brake on. Or if they figure out why the car is behaving oddly, they might have a hard time figuring how to release that brake.

A sort of dirty trick... Do a "valet integrity test."

Want to get free parking? Leave 50 cents or a $1 bill in the cup-holder. If it is missing when you get your car back, summon the valet manager. Tell the manager they have a thief, and demand the money be returned to you, along with your parking fee. 

To bolster your case, use your phone to video tape the planting of this bait money, showing you or your passenger as they are currently dressed. Then video tape the arrival of the car and go straight to where the money should be without stopping the video.

Be sure you are not leaving valuables in the car. Take them out. Especially anything like this:

From monitoring Twitter, I can tell you that the theft of weed happens A LOT! And actually, aside from slow service, it appears to me that theft of vehicle contents is the number one complaint about valet services. They will steal anything... from a piece of gum to jewelry to expensive camera equipment... they will steal it all. This is what I am seeing on Twitter. 

Earlier I mentioned the strategy of preemptive tipping. 

Everybody seems to know that you are supposed to tip when you receive your car back.

This approach is tactically not to your best advantage though.

It is more important and strategically better to tip on the way in, because it can impact the level of service you get, and the level of care your car will receive.

Shortly before I left my valet job, I brought out a car and the customer generously tipped me $10 as I gave her the keys. I felt mildly exasperated. If I had known she was going to treat me that well, I would have parked her car in our best, safest space. Instead, I parked it in a regular, tight space where it was more prone to getting dings, dents and scratches.

If I had known she was going to be that generous, I would have been extra careful with her car... because out of a sense of fairness, I would want to do whatever I could to add value. Her giving me value made me want to give her value in return.

Yes, it was a very generous and considerate gesture to tip that much. But that tip had no way of influencing the care of her car by tipping me only at the end.

I recommend giving the majority of the tip when you arrive. And as a courtesy, give another, lesser tip at the end, when you get your car back — but after you have verified that no new damage has been caused.

Put your arrival tip on the dash, in front of the steering wheel.

How much should you tip?

A Lot of People "Stiff" Valets.

Experienced, level-headed valets understand this is part of the business... they just accept it and move on. But some of the guys don't take it very well. They can get REALLY angry.

So if you happen to return to the same valet parking service after stiffing one of the guys, guess what?

It's possible they are going to DO SOMETHING to your car.

I don't know if any of the guys I ever worked with exacted some valet parking kharma, but if you surf the internet long enough, you'll find some stories about it.

When a valet customer is a known stiff, the valets will either try to up their game with the pleasantries — to try to convert the person into a tipping customer, or it will go the other way, where the niceties aren't as nice as they could be.

Most people tip nothing on the way in. Two dollars on the way out would be the bare minimum, in my opinion. If you tip a dollar, they will scoff at that. It's almost nothing, and they probably must share it with their co-workers (in a tip pool).

Don't give coins. The consensus viewpoint among those in the business seems to be that coins are not desirable, even the dollar coins. They want bills, partly because they are less likely to slip out of a pocket while maneuvering, twisting and squatting in and out of cars all day. 

If you choose not to tip, then you are a contributor to the mediocre status of the valet workforce. 

In summary, I strongly recommend taking the unusual approach of deploying the bulk of the tip upfront to influence behavior, and then also giving a departure tip of a lesser amount on the way out, as a thoughtful courtesy.

The Celebrity's Guide To Tipping Valets

If you are a high profile individual, it isn't worth the potential public embarrassment to skip out on giving gratuities... unless you are looking to stir controversy.

For those considered to have celebrity status or a high profile, it's probably best not to provoke an attack on your reputation by stiffing a tipped employee.

On June 13th, 2014 first round tight-end Eric Ebron signed a 4 year contract with the Detroit Lions. It was circulating in the press that this deal is worth $12.25 million, including a $7.23 million signing bonus.

On June 15th, a disgruntled valet worker tweeted that Ebron had stiffed him. And after the player responded with a tweet of his own, poo pooing the issue, a wave of negative buzz came to life...

Yikes... 

I know firsthand that A LOT of high profile people don't spread tips around. And if they cross paths with a valet who lacks discretion, like Mr. Ebron did, it can really get embarrassing and make them look like schmucks. 

If you are dealing with tipped employees and not tipping them, even if you are spending tons of money at a venue, from the perspective of the workers, it's thoughtless and shows them that you have no class.

Just because you have celebrity status or are a VIP of some kind, it doesn't mean you get a free pass when it comes to tipped employees.

How much do you tip?

An above average amount. But it doesn't have to be lavish.

If it is your manner to set things up so that there is distance between yourself and tipped employees, then have an assistant take care of the tips. They should acknowledge the workers by thanking them, hand out whatever needs to be handed out, and then you're fine.

And if you are the sort to have an entourage of some type from time to time, make sure your guests understand that they need to hand out gratuities when appropriate, because if they don't, it reflects poorly on you.

In summary, if you are high profile and you are stiffing tipped employees, you should expect that this juicy nugget of dirt will leak out.

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Preemptive tipping sets up the next Real Valet Control tactic that I'm going to discuss in Part Four. This technique is going to take the defense of your car to a higher level and clearly set you apart as a highly knowledgeable, sophisticated valet parking customer that they certainly don't want to screw-up with.